NORTH HILLS : Crash Course on Armenian Life, Culture

An Armenian organization is sending a North Hills elementary school principal and teacher to Armenia to learn about the culture and education system that shaped the early lives of immigrant students.

Principal Madelyne Coopersmith and teacher Lisa Gaboudian of Lassen Elementary School will be among 13 administrators and teachers from Los Angeles Unified School District leaving today on a 10-day trip sponsored by the international Armenian General Benevolence Union.

They will travel to Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, where they will visit schools, attend cultural events and meet the mayor and the minister of education. The group includes the principal of Kittridge Elementary School in Van Nuys, as well as principals of several Hollywood schools and City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg.

“We want to get to know the culture and the country so we can show more understanding to immigrant children,” Coopersmith said. “We’ll have a better idea of where they’re coming from.”


About 200 of Lassen’s 700 students are of Armenian heritage, more than in any other public elementary school in the Valley.

Osheen Keshishian, editor of the Armenian Observer and an active member of the Armenian community in Glendale, will be the tour guide on the trip.

“I think the group will be surprised with the quality of education in Armenia,” he said. “Students there are taught that education is the key to success. They come here and the hardest thing to adjust to is the lack of homework.” Some of the students said they wished they could go, too.

“I miss my home,” said 12-year-old Anna Dermenchyan. “But it’s good they are going because they will see our country and understand Armenian people.” One of the goals of the trip is to recognize the differences between the Armenian and American cultures, which lead some Armenian students to behave in ways that are not accepted in the United States.

For example, Gaboudian said, school supplies are scarce in Armenia, so some students who come to the United States tend to take more paper than they need and hoard it. In addition, some children might run to lunch because when they lived in Armenia, they had to be aggressive in order to get food at mealtime.

The difference in the way schools are structured in the United States also has an impact on behavior, she said.

“They are used to very strict discipline,” she said. “When the get here they go to the opposite extreme and it takes a while for them to calm down.”